Kate’s Kitchen: The Long Disclaimer & How I Learned Things


I feel like the kitchen is an intimidating place. There have been times in the kitchen when I’ve felt inept, judged, and even betrayed (an incident with a wooden spoon and a blender).

Also, each of us has her own relationship to food and I don’t want to go sticking my nose into anyone else’s kitchen without invitation. Food is intimately personal and important. There is a spirituality with food, even for people who would say they are non-spiritual. There is a sense of community and beauty and dolce far niente (“the sweetness of doing nothing”). I’ve had meals which seemed to overcome the power of time, forcing it to pause and wait while we laughed and tasted.

On the flip-side of the coin, I struggle with my relationship to food. That’s one of the reasons I’ve spent time thinking about it and learning to cook. I obsess about food. I think about what I am going to eat at the next meal every moment of every day – sometimes several days in advance. I fantasize. I torture myself trying to be thin. My New Year’s resolution this year was not to weigh myself, because I always want to know my weight, every day, multiple times each day, just in case.

For those reasons, writing a series of blog posts about the kitchen is super intimidating to me. I want to write it, and I want to write it in a sort of instructional way, but a large portion of people who read this blog also cook. They know things and I fear telling people who already know things about the things I know.

Yet, I love food. I love cooking. I think food and cooking are delightful, and I hope to write some delightful posts.

_________________________________________________________________________________

As I can’t seem ever to shut off the Hermione in me, my response to feeling intimidated and vulnerable in the kitchen was to study.

I have read tons of cookbooks and watched tons of cooking shows. I have yet to take a cooking class, but that is high on my list of to-dos when I’m no longer a starving college student.

So… Kate’s rules for cookbooks.

Cookbooks

1. Cookbooks should actually be read… cover-to-cover, if possible. For a long time, I was skipping the introductory stuff and looking ahead to the recipes. Recipes are great, but they provide instructions for cooking one dish. Introductions, on the other hand, explain cooking in general. They also usually present a food philosophy, which I think every person ought to have.

2. Cookbooks are not Bibles, nor are they even text books. I used to feel like I was supposed to follow recipes exactly and perfectly on every jot and tittle. Doing that was too stressful for me and it kept me from learning to improvise. It kept me from feeling joy and artistry in the kitchen.

3. Kitchen tools can be like jeans or like wedding dresses, so don’t go buying crap you’ll only use one time. Make sure you know the difference between the items you will use and the ones you won’t before forking out the dough. Most cookbooks include a list of everything everyone ought to have in the kitchen. The lists include items ranging from pots and pans to spices to pantry ingredients to gadgets and gizmos. I read everything on those lists, but I have never, not even one time, had everything on one of those lists. Having that stuff isn’t usually important, because where there is a will, there is a way. It’s better to improvise once, even if you get it wrong, than it is to buy an expensive gadget that’s eventually going to be donated to Goodwill.

4. Use the public library and used book stores before you use Amazon. There is no reason to buy a cookbook unless you know it’s going to be helpful to you. There is also no reason to buy a cookbook new. If you do it right, you are going to dump flour and drip EVOO all over the pages of your favorite cookbooks. Buying them new is a waste of money.

5. Apps and e-books are good for lounging on the couch or in bed, not for the kitchen. Often, you need to look at a recipe RIGHT NOW, not after you wash and dry your hands. It’s better to touch a hard-copy with greasy fingers than it is to touch a screen. If you must use an app or e-book, print stuff out.

6. Have a variety of cookbooks, including one for beginners, one that seems old-fashioned like your grandmother probably used it, one that’s aspirational, one specific to your food philosophy and dietary restrictions, and one that’s sort of niche.

  • Everyone should have a cookbook for beginners, because they don’t feel as terrifying as the rest of the cookbook world. They explain techniques that seem intimidating (like blanching), as well as ingredients that seem intimidating (like spaghetti squash). The recipes are foundational and become staples of everyday life. They often replace boxed foods, like mac ‘n’ cheese, and nothing is worse than that powdered Kraft cheese crap that was created in a petri dish.

 

  • When I say old-fashioned, what I mean is Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen, or something similar. This type of cookbook is usually binder-style, so you can pull out individual recipes. It includes an uncommon variety of recipes concerning both difficulty level and dish-type. They have recipes for dessert rolls that take a million steps to make and for veggie broth, which is super easy. They are easy to navigate: they’re tabbed, with tables of contents for each section. They also include food that works for any and every occasion.

 

  • Aspirational cookbooks are the ones with the recipes you always want to make, but almost never do. They are usually the Julia Child/Wolfgang Puck books that seem great for all of those fancy dinner parties you intend to throw but never do. They are the wedding dresses of the cookbook world, and everyone ought to have one to pull out once every five years and impress people.

 

  • I usually go with vegan cookbooks for my food philosophy/dietary restriction books… even though I’m not a vegan. Half of the recipes in most cookbooks are wasted on me since I only rarely eat fish and eat no other meats. Vegetarian cookbooks are fine, but they seem to spend less time and emphasis on understanding food than vegan ones. Vegan books explain that they’re using nutritional yeast as a cheese substitute, which helps me improvise down the road. Also, it’s easier to add cheese to a vegan recipe than it is to take cheese out of a vegetarian one. Vegan isn’t the only way to go, though. There is a cookbook out there for every food philosophy… keto, paleo, dairy-free, gluten-free, raw, etc…

 

  • When someone asks what your favorite food is, what do you say? Indian food? Israeli? Chinese? Popcorn? Ramen? Coffee? … this is what I mean by niche cookbooks, and what I like about them is the variety they bring to my favorite things. I know how to pop popcorn, but having a cookbook dedicated to popcorn allows me to try new and different things with it AND these types of books are great for hosting. Having a popcorn bar where people choose how to flavor their own food is super fun and easy.

 

  • A note on food memoirs… I don’t like them. They seem to be sort of indulgent navel-gazing that hasn’t helped me at all in my kitchen. That said, there is one book that I would place in this category called The Everlasting Meal. It’s totally helpful and worth it. Plus, the Pima County Public Library has a copy, so you can read it without having to pay anything.

7. Food blogs are great for consulting, but not for reading. I know there are some great food blogs out there. I just don’t really like any of them. Partly, it’s the screen thing. Hard copy is always superior to me. Partly, there are so many of them that it’s hard to separate the good from the bad. Partly, they feel too much like food memoirs. Partly, it’s the fact that good food blogs eventually put out a cookbook anyways.

I know… this thing that you are reading is a blog post. Thank you for reading, but reading a good cookbook would be more worth your time. 🙂

8. Magazines and newspapers that write about food are for consulting. They’re fine. They sometimes have great recipes. I love that the N.Y. Times includes a recipe on their daily briefing, and have read many a recipe they have posted. But they strike me as having similar problems to blogs (minus the navel-gazing usually).

*I suppose if you kept a nice file and printed out the recipes of the Times or a good food blog, it could be as good as having a cookbook, although, I don’t think it would actually save you much money, you should probably laminate them, and you would be lacking a coherent body of recipes that are united under one food philosophy.

9. Ask people in your life for their recipes. I’m not very good about this one. My grandmother, however, used to send me a recipe in every letter or card she ever sent me. I think she would get them for free from somewhere, and they weren’t her type of cooking so she’d mail them off to me. Her type of cooking was more along the lines of: dump sugar, salt, flour in a bowl, add some water, stir for a bit, shape and stick in the over. She just knew how to do things in her kitchen and would try recipes only occasionally. For years, I didn’t think it was exciting to receive her cast-off recipes, but I did keep all of them. I mostly used them as book marks. When I started cooking, though, I also started trying some of the recipes she’d sent me. None of them has struck me as spectacular, but they have been a nice way for me to keep a piece of who she was as she gets older. My mom often laments the fact that my grandmother has reached a stage of life in which she only eats Little Debbie boxed desserts and the occasional microwavable mac ‘n’ cheese. At one time, she was the best cook I knew.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Finally, specific book recommendations.

My number one recommendation is any of the Thug Kitchen books. There are a few different ones, but start with “The Official Cookbook.” It’s the best one. Thug Kitchen books are delightful. The writers curse at you all the time (subtitle: “Eat like you give a fuck”) and they explain exactly the right amount of things. The recipes are wonderful. Hands down, this is the cookbook I have used more than any other.

For niche books, Jerusalem. Again, this one is at the Pima County Library, so free. It’s got a great intro, even getting into how history and geography has played into the food. Plus, it’s got an excellent shakshuka recipe, although, I have to admit, I combined it with the N.Y. Times recipe, mostly because I wanted to do it in a cast-iron pan and stick it in the oven. I’m not a fan of the runny yolk for shakshuka, although I know that’s the way most recipes recommend going, and it’s probably more traditional that way.

For an aspirational food philosophy book, The Wicked Healthy Cookbook. The intro is excellent. It’s got just enough about the writers and their stories to make you feel like you know the philosophy and the the whys behind what you’re doing. Woody Harrelson wrote the foreword. Also, even though the recipes are complex and challenging, they taste amazing and are well worth it in the end. Fair warning, though, this is a situation where the recipes build on each other. The first recipe I tried was for Ninja Nuts… basically almonds that are toasted in the oven after being coated in a sauce. The sauce, mango sriracha caramel, was delicious, but it required that I first make (or buy, I suppose) regular sriracha. It took me a week to make the sriracha itself, because of fermenting, and it took me another three (ish) hours to turn a bit of it into the mango caramel stuff. I felt super accomplished after the fact, though, and Ninja Nuts have become my go-to snack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Kate’s Kitchen: A Summer of Writing About Food and Developing a Food Culture


All I have written about on this blog for the past two years is the law and dating. Both have been pretty important in my life, but I’m feeling like this semester is the first in which I have been sane about both school and dating. I haven’t even felt the need to check my blood pressure this semester, because I’ve been so calm. I’ve been wanting to get back to blogging again. I often miss it…

Thus, this summer, I intend to write about food.

This post is about food culture and food philosophy.

I grew up mostly eating foods that were either purchased from a restaurant, microwaved by me, or came with little or no assembly required.

I’m not complaining. My mom is (was? because she has sort of retired) a nurse. She would work long days and be tired and none of the rest of us helped out with much of anything at home. She would walk in the door to find piles of dishes in the sink, piles of laundry, and the rest of us lounging in front of the tv eating Chex Mix.

My dad could cook, but he wasn’t the type to cook dinner every night. He was the type who might wake us all up at 4 a.m. to eat homemade cinnamon rolls. Junk food was really his thing. Peanut butter candy, cheese dip, party mix, layered candy bars, etc… Those were his things. If he was responsible for getting dinner on the table, he’d order a pizza.

Also, I was a jock. While I did take a home-ec. class once, I really, truly wasn’t interested in being a homemaker. I occasionally tried to cook things, but it was like once every two or three years that I even felt the need to cook anything.

________________________________________

Fast forward.

When I got my own place, I distinctly remember my first few trips to the grocery store, because I didn’t have any clue what the hell I was doing. I definitely only shopped at Walmart for probably four years, because I felt like Trader Joe’s was pretentious.

My mom made sure I had the basic kitchen things when I moved out: dishes, pans, spatulas, etc… and when I came home from the grocery store, I came home with the edible basics: Marshmallow Mateys, Lean Pockets (trying to be healthy, you know), and cheddar cheese.

For a few years, I stuck to microwavable foods, with the occasional real meal added in. I was fond of a chicken and rice bake I found in my Betty Crocker cook book (another basic Mom supplied me with). I sometimes did salads. Sandwiches. Pastas with store-bought sauces. It honestly wasn’t until I bought my own house that I started to cook real food for myself on a regular basis.

And I started reading books about food.

Lots and lots of books about food.

And dvds about food.

One of the books (I can no longer remember for sure which one) started out with a chapter stating that the problem with the American diet is that we don’t have a food culture.

On the one hand, that’s not entirely true. We have southern cooking, which is its own culture within the larger American culture. We have Thanksgiving, which seems to me the most valid piece of food culture we’ve got, although I also hate it and was called the Thanksgiving Grinch last year. We have burgers and french fries for the Fourth of July. And I’m sure there are other quintessentially American meals that I’m forgetting. Go ahead and remind me of them in the comments, if you like.

To me, pumpkin pie seems like all we can really claim in the way of food culture.

So I set out to develop my own personal food culture. That was probably something like five years ago.

This summer, I’m going to post the things I came up with.

As a general overview, I should say that I’m either a vegetarian who rarely, but occasionally eats fish or a Pescatarian who rarely, but occasionally eats fish. Neither label seems fully satisfying, but it’s how I’ve been for about 4 years now, and it’s a big piece of my food philosophy.

Steve, Lori, and I had a conversation quite awhile back about the theology of food, and I generally have a problem with factory farming in large part because of that conversation and food documentaries like Food, Inc.

I firmly believe that we are poorly stewarding the earth, in no small part, due to factory farming. I am opposed to the idea of feeding corn to cows. I’m opposed to chickens so fat they can’t walk. I’m opposed to eating a burger that is made up of meat from bunches and bunches of cows instead of just one at a time.

Also, though, I have reached a point where my practice actually exceeds my beliefs. I don’t think it’s wrong to eat meat. I just think it’s wrong to treat animals poorly (as well as treating the earth poorly) before we eat them. Yet, I am kind of grossed out by most meat now. When I contemplate eating meat, I can’t stop thinking of the animal it came from and how sad it is that it has died to provide something for me that I don’t even actually need.

Even though I definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying a slab of beef from Whole Foods where you can select an animal who has lived a better life than lots of children in this world… I almost never have it in me to eat animals anymore (except fish for some inexplicable reason).

Because of my philosophy about stewarding the earth, I also have a leaning towards eating local, organic, and whole foods cooked by me at home, although it’s way too much work for me to be committed to doing that all the time. I also try to avoid foods that seem to have been invented in a petri dish… for instance, if I need fuel on a run, I tend to eat pouches of organic baby food rather than Gu, and I try to buy food with labels that make sense to me.

So… there isn’t much else in my food philosophy, but there are some staples in my diet that I’m going to try to write about this summer.

 

Eggs

Popcorn

Rice (and just about any whole grain)

Red wine

Avocados

Nuts (all types, but especially walnuts and cashews)

Coffee

Spices (especially paprika)

Spinach, onions, tomatoes, and certain squashes

Almond butter

Apples, berries, and frozen fruits

 

Additionally, I am trying to branch out and do more with tea, vinegar, homemade sushi rolls, and homemade sauces. I only rarely bake (unless roasting veggies and making pizzas count) and I’m not as interested in desserts as I am in savory foods. I also rarely cook for others, because I oddly feel like I am imposing on them by making them eat my food. This summer, however, I may try to host more so as to get more comfortable cooking for others.

 

I will try to post pictures, as if I were a proper food blogger.

 

Happy cooking!

 

 

An Assault Upon the Flesh


Over the summer, I fasted for the first time. I’m one of those people who’s never really felt like I had a good reason to fast. I felt like fasting was somehow akin to speaking in tongues, and it wasn’t something I felt I ever needed to do in my relationship with God.

Then, I just really struggled.

I struggled with work. I struggled with church. I struggled with friendships. I struggled with family. I struggled with romance. I struggled with reading and writing. Just about the only thing that was going well in my life for awhile was running, so I settled in and trained, and I ran a marathon.

The day I fasted was just about a week after running the marathon.

I felt like God was far away. I felt like I was resistant to Him, even though I didn’t want to be. I felt like everyone around me was falling apart. I felt like I’d never be happy again. I had just quit my job with no prospects for the future. I’d thrown my crap into a rental car days after my last day of teaching, and I drove to San Diego to run a race. And then, after running the race, I just drove.

I planned on driving up the coast and being alone a lot. I planned on walking along the beach, praying, reading, writing, and re-adjusting my attitude.

I thought fasting might be a decent idea.

So, I took one day, and I fasted. I wasn’t sure what the rules are of fasting. I thought about Islam, and I thought fasts in that situation end at sundown or something. I thought about Jews and what they would consider fasting (I didn’t actually know). I thought about whether fasting means no calories at all, or just no solid food… and I decided that I could have a Starbucks and that was it until Midnight.

It was a good day, and I can’t say with any certainty that fasting is what knocked me back into myself. In all honesty, I think it was probably a dozen different things that all contributed to putting me back together.

Then, I was sitting at Starbucks I am sitting at Starbucks, and I just finished reading my daily chapter of Bonhoeffer, and I came to something that I think accurately describes the role fasting played in my life, “As soon as a Christian recognizes that he has failed in his service, that his readiness has become feeble, and that he has sinned against another’s life and become guilty of another’s guilt, that all his joy in God has vanished and that his capacity for prayer has quite gone, it is high time for him to launch an assault upon the flesh, and prepare for better service by fasting and prayer,” (The Cost of Discipleship ch. 16).

Fasting, for me was an assault upon the flesh.

Every time I felt hungry or thought about food, I prayed. I spent a lot of the day thanking God for how much food is available  to me. I live in an abundance of food like the world has never seen throughout its history. I think about food all day, every day, and what I think is, “Should I eat ______, or should I eat ________?” I consider whether or not I want to cook for myself or eat out. I consider how many calories I’m at and whether I can stand putting myself at a calorie deficit for the day. I plan out what times I’m going to eat so that I can exercise, sleep, etc… without feeling uncomfortable. Not eating is interesting, because so many of the decisions I make in a day are about food. With those decisions off my plate (haha!), I found myself feeling really calm and at ease.

And I found myself able to put everything into perspective. All of my struggles seemed less significant in light of how completely secure I feel in God meeting my day-to-day needs. God has never left me hungry. Never. That single fact deserves so much more gratitude than I ever feel or express.

Picture Book Kitchen #1: Pasta Plus Leftover Spaghetti Squash Plus Homemade Sauce


Essential Stats

*No recipes consulted/no exact measurements/vegan

*An hour and six minutes commencement-to-couch, including dish-washing that should have been done the night before.

*Pasta sauces are the best for using up Bountiful Basket ish. They can also be reincarnated as pizza sauces, and it’s really difficult to ruin them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New Hobbity Series Here on the Blog… Picture Book Kitchen????


Cooking Background: I feel the need to disclaim a difficulty I foresee in this plan. I feel a compulsive concern right now for others’ perceptions, mostly because some people talked about me behind my back not too long ago, and have ignored my attempts to address this conflict… so my feelings are still hurt.

I am not a kitchen guru, but I’m also not a cooking Padawan, though there are people in my life who see me as both extremes. I’ve cooked. For years. I’ve also not cooked. For years. I don’t think I know everything, so don’t get all, “Katie’s on a kitchen power-trip.” (That’s similar to the thing the people were saying about me).

In all frankness, I’d rather folks not think about me in the kitchen (or really at all in life), because the point of posting these things isn’t to showcase myself. The point is to have fun and display some kitchen whimsy. Recipes are often anxiety-inducing. What if I can’t find the exact right product, or what if my measuring spoons are dirty and I don’t want to wash them????? My idea is to post some things that are the opposite of that. My idea is to help myself and others love cooking, regardless of the outcome.

On that line of thought, like running, the kitchen and life can be ruined by others’ opinions. According to The Cool Impossible (written by somebody whose name I can’t remember at the moment), “The hardest thing in the world is for a runner to run at her own pace when she knows someone is watching.” Cooking and running and life shouldn’t be about the opinions of others.

That said, I’ve been cooking a ton lately, and I care a lot about food right now. I don’t currently have much of an income, so I’m cooking to save $. I purchased the Thug Kitchen Cookbook, which is miraculous in the accessibility it provides to vegan cooking. Everyone should own it. Also, I’m becoming more vegetarian/vegan ish… though not fully either vegetarian or vegan yet.

To support my new cooking habit, I started doing the Bountiful Basket thing, which I’m enjoying immensely. All of that is where this post finds its origins: several people have asked me if I’m capable of using an entire Bountiful Basket, and how I go about cooking it all.

True Answer: I haven’t ever found a limit to how much I could eat, so I’m definitely capable of eating an entire basket. However – and don’t judge – using the entire thing isn’t particularly high on my list of priorities.

My Personal Philosophy on the Basket: I want to use most of what’s in the basket, and I want to experiment. A little waste doesn’t bother me.

My Personal Philosophy on Cooking: I don’t think cooking or eating should be stressful or even structured. Cooking to me is art. It’s creative. It’s relaxing. It’s fulfilling. I consult recipes rather than following them; Shasta once said that I’m really difficult to cook with because I basically do what I want in the kitchen. I eyeball or completely reject measurement recommendations. I usually feel like my hand is a much better measuring device than spoons or cups. I substitute what I have or desire for what’s “supposed” to be included in a recipe.

So… Idea: I’ve decided to start a series in which I combat the Instagram by posting real pictures of things I cook… without much explanation of anything, and without discarding 82 photos before getting a beautiful one that’s post-able. Sometimes the pictures will be blurry. Sometimes the food will turn out bad. It’s okay.

I’m going to call the series Picture Book Kitchen.

The End.

Some Pics I’ve Been Saving Up


Feed the Hobbit, Not the Fat Kid


I’ve recently been watching what I think to myself, because I’ve caught myself thinking some pretty critical and unforgiving things that I would never think about other people, but I allow myself to think them about myself. That’s probably pretty normal, but not something I want to make a habit of.

That being said, I’m going to allow myself this one blog post here about the fat kid hobbit (better connotation) because I’m amused by myself a little bit.

Now, okay, I know that I’m not fat Hobbitty in the traditional sense of the word. Anyone who can run 8 miles in the stupid Tucson heat is probably not all that fat a Hobbit and probably anyone who can even walk that distance isn’t super fat Hobbitty either. However, at heart, I have always been a fat kid Hobbit

Matamata, La Comarca en la película de El Seño...

Matamata, La Comarca en la película de El Señor de los Anillos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

.

Fat kids Hobbits just have a different drive in life than most people have. Rather than getting up in the morning because there’s something they want to do that day, they get up because breakfast is calling.

So… I’ve been a little bit depressed, and nothing is going particularly well or particularly poorly – relationship with God, work, relationships with people, writing, reading, running – all things I’m sort of trudging through rather than enjoying. Now, restrain your Christian Hedonist pep-talk for just a moment, because I honestly can’t generate joy that isn’t there, and your Hedonism isn’t going to improve my mood at all. It’ll more likely just make me feel like there’s something wrong with me because you find joy in things that I currently find to be drudgery.

I’m just sort of dutifully living my life right now, trying to figure it all out, and I think it’s okay.

However, there is a bright spot at the end of the drudgery because there is one part of living that brings me great joy all the time.

That’s right – food.

When I wake up, all I can think about is the onion, mushroom, tomato, ham and sharp cheddar omelet I’m going to eat (sadly, Sam forgot to save me some nice crispy bacon to incorporate) and the caramel latte I’m going to enjoy slowly at the kitchen table.

I go to work, and I teach my first three classes with very little on my mind except making it to the next meal. For lunch, I’ve been having a delightful PB & H sandwich (honey fresh off the ranch), followed up with a tasty gala apple. It may seem like a third grader’s lunch, but I assure you it is delightful, so stop judging.

Then, I teach three more classes, grade while sponsoring Minecraft club, and prepare for the next day’s lessons. When I get home, I have an early dinner, which serves as my only meal that varies at all. Tonight, it was an enormous salad, featuring romaine, baby spinach, ham (again, because it’s my fave), garbanzo beans, peanuts, tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, black olives, avocado, sharp cheddar (my other fave), and ranch. Then I had some OJ and a piece of chocolate.

Now, I’m here in bed, typing a blog post, but the only thing I’m really looking forward to in life is breakfast and a latte (oh yeah – and my bedtime Flintstones Vitamin). And I will get up tomorrow, because I want to eat. Also, I will probably go for a run tomorrow, because I want to eat more. However, rather than thinking of myself as a “fat kid”, I’m going to try thinking to myself more positively by considering my love of food to be Hobbitty. Hobbits are representative of the good things in the world that are worth saving, and if I could live the life of any mythical creature, I think I’d probably be a Hobbit, because they eat a lot of food and relax quite a bit. They also make for excellent friends who stick by you through the darkest of times.

Also, don’t be surprised if STILL GROWING becomes a bit Hobbitty for the next few weeks… 🙂